Medicare vs. Medicaid: Key Differences You Should Know

Navigating the landscape of healthcare can be complex, especially when it comes to government-sponsored programs like Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California). While both programs aim to provide healthcare assistance, they are distinctly different in terms of eligibility, coverage, and administration. Understanding the differences is crucial for individuals seeking healthcare support or planning for their future. Let’s break down the key distinctions between Medicare and Medicaid to shed light on how each program operates.


Medicare is primarily designed for individuals who are 65 years or older. It’s also available to certain younger individuals with disabilities or specific medical conditions. Eligibility is not based on income, but rather on age or disability status.

Medicaid (Medi-Cal) is a program that offers healthcare coverage to low-income individuals and families. Eligibility is determined based on income, household size, disability, and other factors. It is designed to support those who have limited financial resources.


Medicare consists of different parts, each covering specific healthcare services:

  • Part A: Hospital insurance.
  • Part B: Medical insurance (doctor visits, outpatient care).
  • Part C: Medicare Advantage (combines Part A, B, and often Part D).
  • Part D: Prescription drug coverage.

Medicaid (Medi-Cal) offers a broad range of healthcare services, including hospital and doctor visits, preventive care, prescription drugs, mental health services, and more. The coverage can vary slightly from state to state, as states have some flexibility in deciding what services to cover.


Medicare is a federal program administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The federal government sets the guidelines, rules, and standards for coverage and eligibility. However, private insurance companies approved by Medicare offer the plans.

Medicaid (Medi-Cal) is a joint federal and state program. It is administered by states according to federal guidelines. Each state manages its Medicaid program, so there can be variations in benefits, eligibility, and administration from state to state.


Under Medicare, the majority of individuals do not pay a monthly premium for Part A if they or their spouse have paid Medicare taxes while working. There is a premium for Medicare Part B, however, and for additional coverage such as Part D or Medigap plans. Or, if you enroll in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, it rolls both Part A and B, and sometimes Part D, into one plan with one premium.

Medicaid is generally free or low-cost for eligible individuals, but costs can vary based on income and state-specific rules.

Understanding the differences between Medicare and Medicaid is crucial for making informed healthcare decisions. If you’re nearing retirement or in need of healthcare assistance, familiarize yourself with these programs and consult with a professional to determine which program, or combination of programs, best meets your needs. Both Medicare and Medicaid play vital roles in ensuring access to healthcare services for millions of Americans, each serving a unique demographic and fulfilling distinct needs within the healthcare landscape.

Some retirees can qualify for both programs, and MediCaid (Medi-Cal) helps to pay for services not covered by Medicare (such as extended stays in nursing homes). But because you must meet strict income and asset requirements, it can be helpful to consult with an estate planning attorney about protecting property while also qualifying for services.

If you have questions about Medicare enrollment, reach out to one of our licensed insurance brokers. Consultations are always free for all Medicare beneficiaries, so that you can become familiar with the different options available to you.

Posted by PGIA
9 months ago / October 3, 2023

Filed Under: Medicare Info